Two new FERC commissioners, Republicans Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson, were sworn in at the agency, and President Donald Trump on August 10 named Chatterjee to be chairman, taking the gavel from Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur.
Chatterjee acknowledged that his role as chairman may not last long, as Trump has nominated Jones Day attorney Kevin McIntyre to be chairman if McIntyre is confirmed by the Senate. “I am honored that President Trump has designated me as chairman of the Commission until Kevin McIntyre is confirmed, and I am eager to take on this responsibility,” Chatterjee said in an August 10 statement.
Chatterjee was sworn in at FERC August 8, and Powelson, a former member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), was sworn in August 10, FERC said in different statements.
The addition of Chatterjee, a former energy policy advisor to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Powelson provides FERC with three commissioners, the minimum number for a quorum to vote on matters. The Commission had been without a quorum for six months, and it has not had a full slate of five commissioners since the fall of 2015, prior to the departure of former commissioner Philip Moeller.
“I want to thank Chairman LaFleur for the tremendous work she’s done in guiding the agency,” Chatterjee said. “The absence of a quorum was unprecedented, yet she rose to the challenge and created stability through her unwavering leadership,” he said.
LaFleur said she is looking forward to working with the new commissioners in an August 4 statement. “With a quorum restored, our first order of business is the backlog of orders and issues that are awaiting Commission consideration,” LaFleur said.
FERC normally does not hold open meetings in August but votes out orders by notation. It will continue that tradition, with an August 10 announcement that the next open meeting will be held September 20. The last open meeting was in January.
Prior to losing a quorum in early February with the departure of former Chairman Norman Bay, FERC delegated authority to Commission staff to take certain actions under the Natural Gas Act, Federal Power Act and Interstate Commerce Act. That delegation period ends 14 days following the date the quorum is re-established, FERC said.
Powelson told the Daily Local News in Pennsylvania that he will begin work at the Commission August 14, and that he initially will be taking the train to Washington, D.C., from his home outside Philadelphia.
Because FERC has been without a quorum, billions of dollars in infrastructure projects have not been voted on, along with utility mergers, wholesale power market issues, contested pipeline rate proceedings and other matters. Among the larger pipeline projects awaiting a FERC ruling are the Nexus Gas Transmission Project (CP16-22), PennEast Pipeline Co. (CP15-558), Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC (CP16-10) and Equitrans LP (CP16-13) expansion projects, all of which involve moving gas out of Appalachian production regions to different markets.
“With the restoration of a quorum, these pipeline projects can proceed along their anticipated timeline without further delays caused by the commissioner vacancies, increasing development of oil and natural gas and, in turn, greatly benefiting our state and local economies,” Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said in a statement.
In his interview with the Daily Local News, Powelson said that with so many projects pending at FERC due to the lack of a quorum, “the agency basically grounded to a halt.”
Powelson had been at the PUC since June of 2008, including four years as chairman from early 2011 to the middle of 2015. In 2011, he served on Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which reviewed state laws, regulations and policies to develop a proposal for the responsible and environmentally sound development of Marcellus Shale resources, FERC said.
He also was president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), taking that role for what was expected to be a one-year stint in November 2016. Powelson’s successor as president of NARUC will be John Betkoski, first vice president of the group and a member of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. Betkoski will be installed as NARUC president at the NARUC annual meeting in Baltimore in November.
“President Powelson has served the members of this association well. We wish him the best and look forward to working with FERC to ensure that, collectively, we are all serving the public interest,” Betkoski said in a statement.
Powelson and Chatterjee were approved by the Senate on August 3, the last day the chamber was in session before the August recess. Powelson’s term expires 6/30/20, while Chatterjee’s term expires 6/30/21.
Prior to his role with McConnell, Chatterjee worked as a principal in government relations at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and before that at staff positions in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The three commissioners may be joined by McIntyre, a Republican, and Senate staffer Richard Glick, a Democrat, as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for both on September 7.
Glick, currently general counsel for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and ranking minority member on the Senate energy committee, was nominated by President Donald Trump for a term expiring 6/30/22.
Trump has nominated McIntyre, co-leader of the energy practice at Jones Day, to be chairman at FERC if he is confirmed by the Senate. He was nominated for a term that expires 6/30/18 and for a subsequent term that expires 6/30/23.
By Tom Tiernan TTiernan@fosterreport.com
This article appears as published in The Foster Report No. 3161, issued August 11, 2017
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